Colombia This Week -- November 10, 2003

Fri 31 – Four ex-army officers and policeman charged in attempted murder of Wilson Borja.

· The Colombian Attorney General's Office orders the arrest of four former army officers and a policeman accused of the attempted assassination of Congressman and Union Leader Wilson Borja in December 2002. The investigation also names the leader of the United Self-Defence Forces (AUC), Carlos Castaño, as responsible for ordering the attack, El Tiempo reports.

· The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations holds a hearing to explore "Challenges for U.S. Policy Toward Colombia: Is Plan Colombia Working?". US Senators Biden and Dodd express concerns about President Uribe's September comments alleging that NGOs are spokesmen for terrorists and about the proposed Colombian bill that would grant paramilitaries amnesty, the US Office on Colombia reports.

· Lucho Garzon declares "social emergencies" in five poverty-stricken barrios in the south of Bogota. In his victory speech, Lucho told supporters that the "economic direction" in which Uribe had taken the country was unfortunate, and that Uribe's "democratic security policy must be based on the premise that citizens are above the military", Reuters reports.

· The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) reports its competence to investigate the massacre that took place in Barrancabermeja in May 1998. The decision has been made as a result of the failure of the Colombian justice system to investigate those responsible and to protect the relatives of the victims. Seven people were killed and 25 more disappeared, reportedly by paramilitaries, El Colombiano reports.

· Robert Charles, spokesperson for the US State Department, reports that the results of the referendum in Colombia should not affect the security agenda of President Uribe Velez.


Sat 01 - Ecuadorian president challenges Uribe over arms allegations; FARC commander killed.

· Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez demands a public apology from his Colombian counterpart Uribe Velez after the latter recently alleged that a rocket launcher used by FARC in a failed attack in Bogota had been purchased from corrupt Ecuadorian military personnel. Gutierrez indignantly denied Uribe's allegations, noting Bogota's recent refusal to allow Ecuadorian army investigators to examine the rocket launcher, seized by Colombian authorities after the attack. Colombian officials have not explained the refusal, but it has strengthened Gutierrez's case that Uribe is mistaken.

· Colombian soldiers kill FARC commander Marco Aurelio Rodriguez Buendia in a surprise raid on a guerrilla camp 45 miles northeast of Bogota. Gen. Castellanos reports from Bogota that Jorge Briceño, FARC's top military commander sent Buendia to unite the FARC fronts and surround the capital, El Espectador reports.

· The Central Trade Union Federation of Colombia (CUT) reports new death threats against Domingo Tovar Arrieta, member of the Executive committee and Director of the Human Rights Department of this trade union. Tovar has been one of the promoters of the referendum abstention campaign, Colombia Solidarity Campaign reports.

· In a public statement, the Colombian Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace urges Uribe's government to assume a more open approach with civil society groups after the results of the elections held last weekend.


Sun 02 – Indigenous communities under threat by armed groups in Sierra Nevada Santa Marta.

· The Colombian Organisation of Indigenous communities (ONIC) report that 40 members of the Kankumano have been killed in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta this year. According to the ONIC, 32 of them were killed by paramilitary groups and 4 by guerrilla groups. They called upon the Colombian authorities to protect them and guarantee the security of their territories.

· The archbishop of Medellin, Luis Alberto Giraldo reports that the Church mediators trying to end the detention of seven foreign hostages in Colombia have reached a deadlock. He reports that the ELN group has refused to release all the hostages together, El Colombiano reports.

· The Colombian National Statistics Institute (DANE) reports that Colombian imports totalled US $9.02 billion from January to August 2003, imports from the United States constituted 29.8 %, Venezuela and Brazil both accounted for 5.2 % and Mexico for another 5 %, La Republica reports.

· According to the Colombian Navy, an international anti-drug patrol plucks an estimated $30 million worth of cocaine from the sea after smugglers abandoned it. Members of a joint patrol from Colombia, the United States, Britain and the Netherlands chased the suspected smugglers.


Mon 03 – AUC salutes Colombian left's poll victory; IMF visits Colombia after the referendum.

· In a statement on their website, the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) congratulates leftist politicians on their Oct. 26 election victories: ''It is a demonstration that in Colombia the left can take power democratically, and we all respect that". The statement is co-signed by the paramilitary group's military commander Salvatore Mancuso and the political boss Carlos Castaño, Reuters reports.

· A delegation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) arrives in Colombia to meet with key government officials. Analysts warned that what would have been a routine IMF visit had the referendum been approved, would instead be a mission concerned by Colombia's deteriorating fiscal outlook. Under its existing IMF agreement, Colombia had targeted a fiscal deficit of 2.5 per cent of GDP in 2004. That target now looks out of reach. An increase in taxes is also likely to trim existing economic growth forecasts, La Republica reports.

· In an interview with Inter Press Service news agency (IPS), the Commander and spokesperson of FARC Raul Reyes reports that FARC is willing to accelerate an exchange of war prisoners with the government. According to the report, the FARC is holding 73 political hostages, including ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US military contractors, IPS reports.


Tues 04 – Central Bank: reserves may go to pay debt; NGOs attacked by army patrol in Arauca

A member of Colombia's Central Bank board reports that it is possible that foreign currency reserves could be used to pre-pay Colombia's debt, as President Uribe suggested in a speech last week. Colombia's foreign reserves totalled $10.36 billion on Oct. 29, compared with an end-2003 target of $10.54 billion agreed on with the International Monetary Fund, Financial Times (FT) reports.

Rights groups from Arauca report concerns after a special commission made by Colombian and International organisations went to the municipality of Caranal (Arauca), to verify the results of the fumigation campaign. According to reports, a Colombian army patrol retained the commission in a roadblock and intimidated members of the group.

Canadian Oil Company Talisman will start drilling its third exploration well in Colombia, Candelo, in 20-30 days, president and CEO James Buckee said during a conference call to discuss earnings in the first nine months of 2003. A fourth well, El Encanto, will start drilling "shortly thereafter," Buckee added.

Special Forces shoot dead Luis Alberto Camacho Duarte, one of the leaders of the FARC's Arturo Medina unit, in a rural area of Nariño, the Colombian Army reports.


Weds 05 - Minister Londoño warns of early elections if Congress does not support Uribe.

Colombian top Interior and Justice Minister Fernando Londoño declares in a meeting with Conservative congressmen that President Uribe could call early elections if he loses support in Congress. "[If you choose to oppose these measures], in that case we will be in a situation of severe political crisis. Such a crisis could not be resolved without extreme measures that the President has considered, including bringing forward the elections", El Tiempo reports.

Associated Press (AP) reports that Ricardo Galan, spokesman for President Alvaro Uribe, denies that the Colombian leader is considering the extreme measures suggested by Londoño: "It is not true that the President is contemplating the possibility of resigning or convoking early elections," he said.

The US government insists that the bill proposal that Colombian Congress is preparing to grant amnesties to paramilitary commanders cannot be an excuse to evade ongoing US extradition processes. US Ambassador in Colombia, William Wood also says after meeting with Colombian Congressmen Mario Uribe Escobar, Antonio Navarro, Carlos Holguín, José Renán Trujillo, Rafael Pardo and Darío Martínez, involved in the project, that US authorities fear some narco-traffickers are trying to evade the Colombian and international justice system by including themselves in the negotiations with the paramilitaries.

Via Campesina, an international movement that coordinates small and medium peasant organisations and ethnic communities, denounces that Colombian social leader Francisco Cortez has been held captive for more than six months in a security prison in Chonchocoro, (Bolivia). They also said that his health is deteriorating since he is suffering from a long-term sickness, and called upon the Bolivian Attorney's Office to free him.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe says he will work "day and night" during his remaining three years in office. Uribe made his remarks during a speech at a police academy, Reuters reports.


Thurs 06 –Army reports FARC's advance around Bogota; Uribe's top minister, Londoño, resigns.

Gen. Reinaldo Castellanos reports that Colombian troops have defeated an unprecedented guerrilla campaign to encircle Bogota and cut off major roads leading into the capital. More than 1,300 guerrillas had massed in the forested mountains in the capital's outskirts with orders to seize roads, recruit new fighters, and set up rear bases to carry out attacks and kidnappings. "If the terrorists had taken control of those highways, it would have been a seriously complicated situation" the General said, AP reports.

Colombia's top Cabinet member, Fernando Londoño resigns after receiving criticism for suggesting that President Uribe might quit and call new elections if Congress does not adopt proposed reforms. Londoño's resignation came a day after regulators imposed a US $18,500 fine on him for illegal stock trading. The stocks involved in the 1999 trade were for Invercolsa, a gas subsidiary of state-run oil firm Ecopetrol. At the time, Londoño was a member of Invercolsa's executive board and a major shareholder.

Colombian media reports on the rumours and comments made by politicians on the possible resignation of President Uribe Velez. "I'm surprised by the statements of the Minister," said former President Ernesto Samper. "It seems to me that what he's insinuating is nothing more or less than a rupture of constitutional order." Members of Congress also questioned whether the president had the authority to call new elections since power would fall to the Vice President if Uribe resigned, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

President Uribe Velez names businessman and close political ally Sabas Pretelt de la Vega as new Interior and Justice Minister. Pretelt, who leads the National Federation of Retailers (FENALCO) and has no experience in office, takes the post as the government's voice in Congress as Uribe seeks approval for tax hikes and spending cuts to meet International Monetary Fund targets, El Tiempo reports.

Defence Minister Marta Lucía Ramirez reports that the Colombian military knows where the FARC group is holding the three US Defence Department contractors hostage but has not attempted to rescue them for fear of endangering their lives. "We have a pretty clear idea of where they are keeping them, but the primary concern of our armed forces has been to avoid any operation which could put them at serious risk", Reuters reports.


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